For readers who didn't know already, Ivan Liu is the chief engineer and owner of Kinki Studio, a high-end value brand that launched in China in 2008. It's being globally marketed by Vinshine Audio's online boutique in Singapore. Their Ken Ng acted as our mutual translator. I proposed the same range of questions to Mr. Zhao of Denafrips but learnt that "he's far too busy fighting the current parts shortage crisis. The global semi-conductor crisis is hitting everybody now. We should all brace ourselves for more disruption and probably hyper inflation soon" is how Alvin of Vinshine put it. By June 9th, Ken had received Ivan's answers and was working on submitting them in translated form by the end of the week. Here are my questions.
At Guangzhou 2021 show setting up in all black livery.
♦ Ivan, China's involvement with high-end hifi manufacturing seems to be a lot younger than that of America, Europe or Japan. It then seems intuitive to think that your first exposure to high-end hifi must have come from the most popular import brands of the time. Could you mention specific Western or Japanese brands even models that you then encountered in local shops, trade shows or homes which impressed you? How did they shape your own notions about 'good sound', your interpretation of it and what was possible?
♦ Relative to that exposure of upscale Western hifi, was there anything different to a listener like yourself who was raised in China? Did some of it require getting used to like an acquired taste? Or was all of it love at first sight? In the same vein, do you think that designing equipment for the global market today must pursue different sonic ideals than if you designed equipment purely for a Chinese audience?
♦ For your own taste and vision, what are the key audio qualities you listen for? Do they sit in a particular sequence of importance? We're all shaped and influenced by what we're exposed to. Over time, we collect more experiences so broaden our exposure. That can change or refine our ideas about what's possible and what we want for ourselves. Across your career, did some audio qualities add or drop away from your list; or did their position in your overall hierarchy change?
♦ For Kinki Studio today, can you describe the specific sound you pursue? What are the key qualities you believe define your electronics and possibly set them apart?
♦ To achieve your sound, what were some of the most important technical measures you had to adopt? Were there particular measurements or specifications you pursued, certain circuit topologies or parts? Did you have to discard certain earlier solutions until you hit upon a winning recipe? If so, what were some of those discarded solutions?
♦ In your work, how much about the final sound can you successfully predict from circuit simulations, measurements and parts selection; and how much still depends on fine-tuning by ear, perhaps even in a group setting for feedback from other trusted listeners?
♦ Tell us something about your formal training as it relates to electronic circuit design and hifi manufacture.
♦ How many workers do you employ today? How big is your factory? Do you build or design equipment for other brands in an OEM/ODM capacity?
♦ How long did it take Kinki Studio to be noticed abroad then accepted as a legitimate alternative to Western or Japanese brands? Do you still encounter preconceptions about coming from China? If so, what are they? How has the domestic market reacted to your growing visibility in the West?
♦ Are there any mainland China not Taiwanese speaker brands which you feel offer the same kind of quality as Kinki Studio does for electronics?
♦ If you have any, are there new models in the Kinki Studio pipeline you can tell us about? Will you ever enter the mobile or digital streaming market?
♦ If you were a Western-based electronics manufacturer wanting to break into the Chinese hifi market, what is the most important domestic show they should attend? Is there a particular kind of music Chinese audiences enjoy the most? Are there common mistakes Western brands make relative to selling successfully in China?
♦ Are there any Western or Japanese hifi brands you are particular fond of today? If you can say, which ones might be the most similar to the Kinki Studio sound to be considered your most direct competitors? Finally, what is the product you're most proud of; and which one is your bestseller (perhaps those are one and the same)?
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